Friday, March 2, 2012

Achieving Energy Independence

Mideast Oil

“We will continue to need high-energy-density fuels for years to come. But we can develop new liquid biofuels that will be direct replacements for gasoline and diesel fuel. These will be next-generation biofuels made from high-energy grasses such as miscanthus and from agricultural wastes. In 2005 the Oak Ridge National Laboratory outlined an achievable strategy (known as the "Billion Ton" study) for using biomass to replace 30 percent of our transportation fuels, and the science has advanced since then. When we have new biofuels that can be blended at any level with gasoline and that are safe for both engines and the environment, the importance of oil as a strategic resource will plummet.”
— Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy & Nobel laureate in Physics (1997),
as quoted in Energy Independence

Typical West Texas Pumpjack: These mechanical pumps are used to lift oil from a well that does not have sufficient bottom-hole pressure to allow it to flow unaided to the surface. Depending on the size of the pump, each stroke produces between 5 and 40 litres of liquid. Pumpjacks, such as this one located south of Midland. Texas, are common in oil-rich areas.
Photo Credit: Eric Kounce, 2008
Source: Wikipedia




One of the things that I think about is why we in the developed industrialized nations are still highly dependent on Mideast oil. This fits under the category of strange unexplained phenomena, with not much energy progress almost 40 years after the OPEC embargo of 1973, and more than 30 years after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. It's no secret that the Middle East remains unstable, uncertain and volatile, which makes its oil supply all the more unpredictable and vulnerable. Does it make sense that in 40 years, Western nations have still not sufficiently harnessed our combined intellectual abilities and scientific know-how to resolutely develop renewable, Green energy solutions that would give America and the West energy independence?

If we need reminding, there is precedent for such an initiative, one that tapped into the American desire to progress and do so in a challenging and exiting way that took in all the intellectual, mental and emotional characteristics of a nation. On May 25, 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy called for a 10-year plan to land a craft on the moon. America succeeded. It, the Space Race, was not only exciting, but it led to many technological advancements that we know take for granted. I was and remain a Canadian, but I followed the American accomplishments with both awe and pride. It touched all persons interested in science and technology as well as in in freedom and democracy.

Can we not have a high-profile Energy Race to develop sustainable renewable energy sources that would lessen our reliance on Mideast oil and oil in general? Think of the all the good it would do, including creating an feeling of optimism, improving the economy, and creating jobs, lots of them. It would also have the added effect of reducing the power that unstable regimes in the Middle East hold, all because they happen to be in a region that is awash in petroleum. It would also put a damper on state-sponsored terrorism. This is a national security issue, chiefly because billions of dollars a year of oil money eventually finds its way to finance international terrorism.

The oil companies can also be champions of the Energy Race, as they turn away from oil and toward renewable sources, reinventing themselves with their vast cash resources. In fact, in its January 2012 report, "BP Energy Outlook 2030", the giant petrochemical company says that the United States will be energy independent by 2030, in less than 18 years. Of course, oil is still in the equation, but it will be from domestic and reliable sources, like Canada. Still, why will it take till 2030? Can't we do it sooner?

We might need a large program like the Energy Race or Energy Challenge to unite all the interests under one banner. I know the naysayers say it can't and shouldn't be done. Even so, it's a proposition worth exploring, and if Steven Chu, the U.S. energy secretary is correct, recent developments in biofuels technology will also bolster energy independence. So, what is happening with biofuels? There seems to be little news on it. (I remember writing an article on bio-refining and biofuels in December 2006.)

As a consumer concerned about both rising energy costs and energy sustainability, I would like to hear from the energy experts why it has not been discussed more seriously in the public, notably in the mainstream media. The two chief question worth addressing are thus: How far along are we to achieving energy independence? And what is the road-map to achieving it? We need to hear some good news on the energy front.